St George Illawarra forward Jack de Belin has put his hand up to play for the Kumuls as the PNGRFL prepare to appoint a new coach for the upcoming Pacific Test and World Cup, while reigniting their campaign for a team in the NRL.
Highly regarded and long serving PNG coach Michael Marum, who took charge of the Kumuls in 2016 after Mal Meninga stepped down to accept the Australian job, recently resigned from the post and is considering a tilt at politics ahead of this year’s elections.
The PNGRFL is expected to announce Marum’s replacement next week to give the new coach time to prepare for the June 25 Pacific Test double header at Campbelltown Stadium, which also features a clash between Samoa and the Cook Islands.
He will then oversee PNG’s World Cup campaign in England at the end of the season, with the Kumuls – the No.5 placed team in the IRL world rankings - drawn to play Tonga, the Cook Islands and Wales in their pool matches.
Storm pair Justin Olam and Xavier Coates, Rabbitohs winger Alex Johnston, Roosters halfback Lachlan Lam and Broncos back David Mead are among the current NRL stars to have represented the Kumuls in recent seasons and de Belin has declared his interest in joining them.
De Belin, whose grandmother Aileen Leary was born in PNG while her parents were serving as missionaries, has been considering declaring his eligibility for the Kumuls since the 2013 World Cup, when Adrian Lam was in charge of the team.
The former NSW Origin lock discussed his interest in representing his PNG heritage more recently with John Wilshire, who was a member of Marum’s coaching staff.
“My Nan on my mum’s side – my mum’s mum - was born in Papua New Guinea,” de Belin told NRL.com. “Her parents were doing missionary work in Papua New Guinea and she was born there.
“Unfortunately, her mum passed away when she was about five and her dad couldn’t look after the children, so they were sent back to the Australia and adopted out among cousins and family.”
De Belin first became aware of his eligibility for PNG when he debuted for the Dragons in 2011 but the 31-year-old said he didn’t feel comfortable playing for the Kumuls at the time.
“When I came to the Dragons, I had to fill in eligibility forms and they ask you where your parents and grandparents are born,” de Belin said. “That’s where my interest in playing for Papua New Guinea began.
“Adrian Lam was my under 20s coach at the Dragons and he was the Papua New Guinea coach, as well. He was trying to gee me up to play for Papua New Guinea but at that time I didn’t feel comfortable.
“I had never been to PNG and didn’t have any connection there, so I didn’t feel it was right to take a spot from someone who probably deserved it more than me, but if an opportunity arose now, I would certainly consider it.”
The PNGRFL hope successful World Cup campaigns by the Kumuls and Orchids will assist their bid for a team from the Pacific nation to join the NRL in 2025.
The PNGNRLBid2025 was officially launched in Port Moresby on Wednesday night by PNG sports minister Wesley Raminai and has been described as a “project of national significance”.
“Our PNGNRL bid team is ready. The time to start the journey is now. We can’t wait any longer,” Raminai said.
“This will put PNG on the map in ways never done before. I understand we did try something 12 years ago, but this bid is different.
“PNG’s passion for rugby league is undeniable, as we are the only country in the world who can claim this sport as our national sport.
“Our leaders understand the significance for our country to have a team in the NRL competition, which is followed passionately in our country.”
PNGRFL chairman Sandis Tsaka said the bid would meet the NRL’s minimum requirements of:
- governance and risk
- financial strength
- commercial strategy
- football competitiveness
- participation and pathways
“We know that it will be a competitive process with other teams from Australia and New Zealand also bidding for the spot but we are confident that our bid will be successful, given the investments and partnerships we have developed for the game in PNG,” Tsaka said.
“We have the massive potential for growth and expansion of the game in PNG and the Pacific market. We thank the Government and Prime Minister James Marape for partnering in this bid.”